An Excess Male
by Maggie Shen King
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Harper Voyager Trade Paperback / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062662552
Date: 12 September 2017 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Over the years since the start of the One Child Policy, there was a skewing of the number of male to female births. Over time, that led to a strange change of in the value assigned to males and females. When there are few women available for marriage, the long held beliefs and cultural standards need to change. In this future, women may choose to take an additional husband. But even this setup, does not improve ratios, and there is a movement to allow women to have a third husband. Not everyone approves.
Wei-guo is a fitness trainer who has been saving money and growing his business in order to afford the bride price. His first meeting with May-ling goes very well, and there seems to be a spark, and her son BeiBei doesn't mind his presence. Her other husbands are not as big of a concern as he feared. He decides to pursue the match, even against his fathers' wishes.
May-ling is struggling with her marriages. Hann is almost everything she wants, but he doesn't feel the same way. Her other husband Xiong-xin is more concerned with his job and computer games. So May-ling is left to care for her son and look for something more in the chance for a third husband.
Hann loves May-ling but he has different goals. His foremost goal is to protect his brother. He also enjoys his time playing badminton with friends. He knows he can't give May-ling the relationship she desires, so he is willing to risk everything to give her happiness.
Xiong-xin is very good at what he does even if he doesn't always recognize the consequences of his actions. He accepts his relationship with May-ling, but would prefer to be on his own. He sees Wei-guo as his chance to get away from a home where he lives but doesn't fit.
The story develops as each of the four characters live and struggle with the courtship and the rules both tacit and implicit. Although legal, a third marriage is not considered to be socially acceptable. The government also plays a role as it tries to keep the people in line. As the multiple threads intertwine, each of the characters faces challenges which threaten both their lives and position in the relationship.
I chose this novel because I was very interested in seeing how China could overcome its shortage of females. In this case, foreign brides are not considered acceptable. This one potential outlet being gone creates additional value for females. You would think that this empowerment would improve the lives of females, but in this setting, it isn't as good as one would expect. The families are the ones who profit from the bride price, not the women themselves. In this future, having daughters is a good thing. The dynamics developed for the marriages seem to be logical although I don't know how well many people could handle a shared marriage, although this form does eliminate the child brides as the men need to have a stable financial situation.
This is a stand-alone novel and as such can be enjoyed without any prior reading. This isn't a feminist utopia, it is a dystopia created by real choices and cultural norms which lead to a huge imbalance in the population. The story is well written and King did a nice job developing the characters. Readers who want to explore the emerging Chinese influenced Science Fiction should take the time to read this novel.